A New Paradigm for the Engineering Sciences?

 Mona Dahms

Looking back and reflecting the technological development during the 20th century, it is obvious that there has been immense progress in many areas of human life and many problems for mankind have been solved. Unfortunately it is equally obvious that there are still many unsolved problems in the world of today and that technological development has also had a number of negative effects, such as the depletion of natural resources; local, regional and global pollution; reduction of biological diversity at an alarming rate and an enormous increase in our ability to kill human beings. Thus there is good reason to take a critical look at the western technological sciences from different perspectives, such as ecological, non-western and feminist perspectives, in a search for alternatives. The feminist perspective on technology will be elaborated upon and the role of women in technological development will be discussed in some detail.


Looking forward, "globalization", "internationalisation" and "the networked market economy" are some of the buzz words used to describe trends in the labour market in the beginning of the 21st century. These trends seem to have positive and negative consequences for different groups in society. The same trends certainly have consequences for the engineering labour market and for the role of engineers. Thus, industry is increasingly demanding engineers who can communicate and co-operate with a wide range of stakeholders, professionals and technology end-users, in multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural teams.


Whether looking back or looking forward, there are clear indications that there is a need for fundamental changes - even for a new paradigm - in engineering sciences: From the engineer as a narrowminded technical specialist to the engineer as a broad-minded and ethically and ecologically responsible agent of social and material change. Given such changes in engineering science there follows some consequences for the engineering education.


Further, changes in engineering education seem to be necessitated by changes in the cultural context of educational institutions, from a relatively stable context based on unquestioned and shared common values to a chaotic context where individualisation and self-construction of identity is the order of the day. Engineering institutions must be able to cater for this situation and for the resulting diversity in the student body. One hypothesis is that a change in engineering education to include women's interests and values would not only lead to more female engineering students but would also further the diversity and lead to changes in the direction indicated by the new paradigm.


In the presentation I will describe some current initiatives of change in engineering education in different countries, including a description of the CuWaT (Curriculum for Women And Technology) project. I will identify similarities among the different initiatives and relate the initiatives to the new paradigm in order to identify new ways in engineering education which may lead to graduation of a new generation of engineers who have the skills, the attitudes and values to actively work for the creation of a socially just and ecologically sustainable world.